When I was 19 and reading as much spiritual philosophy as I could find, I came up with the Theory of the Long Arc. Every friend of mine has heard me riff on it at some point — in moments of clear mind or off on a tipsy tangent, but always in earnest.
Imagine that your life is a long arc. A single curved line, with a beginning and an end. Every relationship, opportunity, or dream has its own arc, too. Each hobby, project, job and era falls somewhere along the line. There’s an arc for every thread, but how long will it last? How long do we have? We don’t know where the arc leads or at which point we’re standing along its curve. All we can do is hold space for the unfolding.
I found that the Long Arc Theory is especially helpful for navigating relationships. It allows a single relationship to write many chapters without me interjecting or controlling an outcome. It asks me to make space for a wide horizon of possibility. Different outcomes, a surprise ending, a plot twist in the second half. Every transition is an opportunity to practice this perspective.
Crossing the bridge from teenager to adult was pretty difficult to navigate, especially with my relationships. Every one of them was shifting simultaneously in those years when spatial distance sets in. As my oldest companions parted ways to attend school or move to a new city, it was easy to mistake extended silence as personal affronts. It’s been too long since they called, I called last time, they’re too busy for me, maybe I don’t matter yada yada ya. But over the years, the Long Arc Theory saved me from assuming a relationship had run its course and cutting it short out of fear, publicly stated or private acclaimed. That granting of grace instead of forcing control eased me into adulthood and took pressure off of the relationships that matter most to me.
Without respect for the long arc, it’s easy to make assumptions that don’t honor the relationship or give it enough credit. But when we remember our history, it relieves a lot of expectation, brings us back to neutral ground and frees up space to reconnect. It also makes our connections more resilient because it’s OK to argue or disagree, as long as you make up down the road.
The thought of the arc has brought me great peace and necessary detachment, in times when letting go and allowing life to run its course seemed utterly impossible. The Long Arc encourages us to confront our needs, speak up and ask for support from others. We are always in a balancing act, finding alignment between our needs and what the relationship can provide. It’s a gesture of kindness to our beloveds, a way to honor their destiny to evolve, live, grow, fail, rebuild, try. And to regard the space between us as a natural ebb and flow.
Only with time do we learn that the depth and meaning of our relationships is compounded through time. Whether still connected or distant memories, the impact of each relationship on our consciousness continues to unfold as we live the Long Arc of our own lives. And that’s the bigger picture.